Q&A with “Angkot dan Bus Minangkabau” author David Reeve (Part 2)

Posted on 24 April, 2017

David Reeve’s new book, Angkot dan Bus Minangkabau: Budaya Pop & Nilai-Nilai Budaya Pop, translated by Australia-based linguist and lecturer Iskandar P. Nugraha, reveals the colour and complexity of this aspect of Minangkabau pop culture in vibrant and entertaining fashion. We talked with both to find out more about their new work. You can read the first half of the interview here.

What do you hope to achieve with the book’s publication?

David: I am just delighted to make a record and provide some analysis of this very lively, creative and fun cultural phenomenon. I’m concerned that it is in danger of disappearing. For example the wonderfully decorated Padang city buses have almost all gone now that the Trans Padang bus service has been introduced … from a very lively popular art form they are now almost extinct. The number of angkot are also declining, down to about 2000 now from some 2200 a few years ago. Cheap credit for motorcycles has taken away some of the clientele. And online alternatives like Gojek and Grab haven’t started yet in Padang, but are most likely to come.

And further still, although outsiders are very impressed by the angkot of Padang, the angkot are not well-regarded by Padang authorities, seen as transgressive and rather wild. Current moves to ‘clean up’ Padang may affect the angkot too. Whereas in Manila, the very colorful and distinctive jeepneys are seen as an asset for city tourism. So as well as drawing attention to this form of popular culture in West Sumatra, I hope to stimulate interest in such from of decoration across the archipelago, and just possibly to help the angkot to be more appreciated in their home city (if that is not aiming a bit too high).

Iskandar: Given the current situation of angkot and buses of Minangkabau, I am totally with David that we should appreciate this West Sumatra icon of popular culture as such. This is the first publication that I know of which focuses on discussing the angkot as a cultural phenomenon and I hope it paves the way for further research in this area. Furthermore, the bilingual layout of the book and word lists for Minang, Indonesian and English should make it an invaluable teaching resource and accessible to a wide audience.

What has the response from readers been like so far?

Iskandar: We’ve had an overwhelmingly positive response from readers and publication reviews such as Jawa Pos and Republika but my proudest moment as a translator came when hearing from a local Minang while in West Sumatra. The young man from Bukittinggi said that he enjoyed the Indonesian translations very much and found it very accurate. He said, ‘The one who did the translations must have a very good understanding of Minangkabau culture.’

Tell us about the book tour in Indonesia – what was the response from bedah buku attendees?

Our original book tour schedule was to begin at Bandung Book fair with our publisher showcasing two new books: David’s angkot book and Peter Carey’s history of corruption in Indonesia book. There was obviously some political backlash surrounding Peter’s book and the venue cancelled our event. So while the publisher set about rescheduling our tour, David still managed to attend our book fair stand for a meet and greet with the fans.

After a 12 day wait, we finally got on the road. Our tour covered Java, Sumatra and Bali taking place at universities, cafés, libraries and bookshops (Kedai Tjikini Jakarta, Togamas Affandi bookshop Yogyakarta and C20 library Surabaya). Universities we visited included State University of Padang, Airlangga University of Surabaya, Brawijaya University of Malang, Wisnuwardhana University of Malang and Ngurah Rai University in Denpasar.

Among public figures appearing on our discussion panels were Indonesian LGBT campaigner and linguist expert Dr Dede Oetomo, well-known writer Seno Gumira Ajidarma, West Sumatran historian Zul Asri, Maya Ardiani and university academic Ary Budhi and Dr Kustyarini. The tour events were varied in format such as general lectures, book discussions and presentations. Kompas and Surya Malang published enthusiastic articles about the tour in Jakarta and Malang. David was also interviewed by local television in Jakarta.

Attendees at a book discussion in Padang. Photo: Iskandar P. Nugraha

In the towns in Indonesia we visited for the book tour, the responses were amazing. The events were always full, mostly by university students, academics and journalists. In some places like Jakarta, the event attracted people from varied backgrounds and ages, such as students of urban transport, artists, writers and so on. The questions were also varied. As online transport was becoming a hot issue during the book tour, some of of the audience were throwing questions around that issue too.

It has been planned that the second book tour for other Indonesian cities will held in the coming month of August 2017.

What’s next for you both?

There are a number of projects for us to go after this. Most likely we’ll get straight back to the long awaited biography of famous and respected Indonesian Chinese historian Ong Hok Ham. We have been working on this for sometime now. After that perhaps some more work on the Indonesian diaspora in far off-countries like South Africa, Sri Lanka, Suriname and New Caledonia, formed centuries ago by particular aspects of the colonial situation.